An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Friday, June 30, 2006


Gilbert was upset. His late night pot of tea sat in front of him as he looked out over the olive grove. Gilbert was sad. The ashtray was half full before him. The dogs barked desultorily as the barn owl passed over the roof of their run: hunting. A waxing moon rode above the big walnut tree behind their run. The outside lights were still lit. The wind had dropped away but the temperature was failing to recede. He was covered in a fine, slightly acrid film of sweat.

Gilbert was upset and sad because he had misled Abby about the gun. He seldom lied to her: he would rather not have to. In all his life he had lied with an alarming and shameless regularity. He had lied to almost everyone who had ever know him. He had lied to people he had never met and never would - he was a writer after all - no, not lied but misled certainly. But not to Abby. Meeting her had straightened his life out and changed him almost beyond recognition. And now he had lied to her.

It was a well-meaning lie, but nonetheless it was a lie. The gun was not just for target shooting. Gilbert had no idea whether it would do him any good in the world of the Laz but he felt more comfortable now that he had it by him. Would a real gun work against a fictional character - Dick had said hadn't he that all of them were originally fictional - he just did not know. All he knew for certain was that this farrago had to be brought to a finish before the Laz could breath life into his nefarious plan. Post modern fiction had to be rescued from this nemesis. There was no denying now that Gilbert and Laz were locked into a conflict so desperate, so hopeless, so doom laden that a truly terminal outcome was ineluctable.

He drank the last of the tea in his mug and lit another cigarette. It was a struggle that he would gladly have passed on. He poured the last of the tea from the pot and went to the toilet to piss. He came back with the muffled refilling of the cistern behind him and smile on his face.

He was smiling because he had just recalled the conversation that he had had with the cafe owner yesterday. Gilbert had gone to the counter so that he could pay for the drinks of the old couple at the front of the cafe. The couple that they had been watching. The owner, short, plump, and florid had demurred his offer graciously and had explained that he had already covered their bill himself. The man was a cousin of his father's and a man of great honour. In more detail, and with more candour than Gilbert would have expected from any man, the owner had then explained in some detail about how the man with the weeping eyes had just recently been released from prison and that the woman tending them was not his wife but his mistress. Our gentle old man had just served some 25 years for multiple murder. "It was blood murder - sometimes people have to die - sometimes murder has to be" the owner had shrugged "what could he do? It was honour."

Gilbert smiled to himself again and repeated " - sometimes people have to die - sometimes murder has to be".

(to be continued ... )

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Gilbert's left arm was outstretched. His right arm was crooked behind his back tucking into his waistband. His right eye was closed loosely - not screwed shut. In the absence of beta blockers he made the final exhalation of his breathing pattern. He was calm now and he held onto that calm. His concentration was nigh perfect. He had drawn his bead during the run up to this moment. A breeze that had played for the last seconds dropped away and he squeezed the trigger evenly.

He lowered the pistol and walked up to the target. Low and to the left. Not as good as his right handed efforts but coming along nicely he observed. Gilbert was teaching himself to shoot left handed. He had been reared in the days when it was considered perfectly acceptable for teachers and coaches to aver and honestly believe that there was no such thing as a naturally left-handed person. The knuckles of his left hand had been repeatedly rapped with a ruler as he struggled to teach himself handwriting until a sympathetic headmistress had intervened on his behalf and forbad this barbaric treatment to all teachers. But thereafter, he received no help in mastering pen and ink and script because none of the teachers knew how to teach penmanship in the sinister mode. And so things continued throughout his school days.

The most painful of these episodes was literally the most painful: in secondary school he met, in his boxing master, a man determined that, no matter what any authority might say, the entirety of the product of his tutelage would be orthodox. And so Gilbert learned bloodily to box in a simulacrum of the orthodox style. He literally had it beaten into him. But his most notable successes in competition came when he switched to southpaw in the third round. The shock of the unexpected, together with the total ignorance amongst his opponents of how to defend against a right lead usually opened things up very profitably for him. Until he met his first genuine southpaw and was forcibly and violently brought to the realisation that he was similarly ignorant and unprepared. It was an ugly fight to watch and even uglier to be in. It was his last fight.

And so, when the following year he was forcibly inducted into the school cadet force although the blood was stale and the flesh had healed the memory was fresh and he offered no resistance to being taught marksmanship and gun handling in the right handed fashion. Nonetheless it scarcely came intuitively to him and it took him longer than the other boys to achieve his marksman's badge. He had hardly questioned from that day forward but that he was a right handed gun. A shooting friend had once remarked on how awkward he looked with a gun on a crow shoot but he had not thought much of it. Until yesterday that was.

Abby had volunteered to trek off down to the bank and that had left him free to wander the odd mixture of shops in the back streets of the Venetian part of town. A tiny haberdashers no more than two metres wide shares an entrance with an equally tiny ceramic pot shop. Both seem to have more dusty faded stock than they could turn over in a lifetime - stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall. A bookbinders. An agricultural machine repair shop with most of the repairs seemingly being effected right out front on the pavement. A shop, dark and dusty, with unusually grimy windows that sells nothing but corks and above the tattered, indecipherable, sun bleached, sign above the door, a pair of battered, rotten, louvred doors that let onto a cramped balcony that fell apart some years back and of which mere remnants cling to stuccoed walls . Beside this little jewel sits the camouflage shop. At least that's what they had always called it. Rack on rack of camouflage trousers and flak jackets, T-shirts and belts, effectively camouflaged the actual intent of the shop. "Sports", the sign read when he finally found it. Simple and terse. And true, he realised as he finally entered. Every week for 4 years they had passed this shop and never had they crossed the threshold.

Very little light seeped into the shop through the hectares of camouflage outside. The aisle between the flanking counters was less than a metre wide - a lot less. The walls were covered, bedecked, with sporting goods: fishing rods, rifles, shotguns, air rifles, crossbows, night sights, pistols, a solitary long bow (fibre glass not ash or better, yew), laser sighting devices and much that Gilbert did not recognise. The glass fronted and topped cabinets were filled to bursting with reels and ammunition, fishing lures and crossbow bolts of aluminium.

A squat, broad, dark man with a mop of unruly hair emerged from the depths - a full 3 metres back. He had on trousers that had once been black and a shirt that had once, long ago, been white. Both were spotlessly clean and happily shabby. He seemed to have no discernible neck - the dark stubble, flecked with grey, that covered his cheeks disappeared into the open neck of his shirt. He walked into and out of a pair of blue and white sandals. Or rather shuffled. In a typically Greek way. "Kali mera, ti thelete?" he growled in a round contra-bass. "Kali mera, milate anglika? " tried Gilbert. "I speak English a little yes only a little but we going to try. What you want?". Gilbert pointed to a case on the left hand wall nearest the front window.

"Do I need a paper to have one of those? A license?". The proprietor waved his arm broadly across the several racks of guns behind him without looking round - "No need paper for these. No need." At this point he turned and gestured to a locked case that clearly contained a few high powered rifles - a Kalashnikov copy amongst them - and several shotguns - mostly side by sides and a solitary over and under - "For these yes papers needed police - pah! Where you live? You live here in Kriti? Where you live?" Gibert explained in broad brush terms and the man nodded - and scratched his stubble, "You live in the country yes? You very lucky man. Not village or town no? Mono olives and farmers yes? You don't need paper for these also." He winked a broad and theatrical wink. "You very lucky. Nobody know you have - no police come there yes? No paper needed." And with that he lifted the pistol that Gilbert had pointed out from the cabinet and handed it over - he put it in Gilberts left hand and Gilbert felt the weight of it, the balance of it - in his left hand. That was when he decided to teach himself to shoot left handed. He took one down for himself, loaded it and aimed at the target pinned up against a shelf of clothing in the diagonally opposite corner of the shop and fired off five shots rapidly. Through a smile that almost split his face and showed two gold teeth amid what seemed to be a shelf of broken Minoan crockery he grinned "this automatic - much better".

Later, sitting in an air conditioned cafe and looking out over the square where the taxis ranked, Gilbert related all of this to Abby. They were watching an old loving couple who sat with a Greek coffee and an orange juice - she dabbed his watery eyes for him now and then, her own hidden behind dark dark thick glasses. "It's OK," said Gilbert "I took a single shot pistol, automatics have a habit of jamming." Abby looked sideways at him, "And we couldn't have that could we? Could we Gilbert?". "Oh Abby, it's just for target work - nobody is going to get hurt, not even those stinking cats next door - promise." She took a tissue from her bag and dabbed at his eyes. "Good," she said "because I want us to end up like those two - old and happy - and in love". He smiled and looked across at them, the sun had moved round and they were lit by the noontime sunshine - they seemed to have haloes now and the sun was lighting up the stained glass doors of the church behind them. "And so do I" he said "and so we shall".

(to be continued ... )

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lift high the roof beam carpenter

Abby and Gilbert sat across from each other at the kitchen table a pot of coffee between them. "We'll have to move this table under that window" said Abby signifying the North facing window of the cellar. And this bookcase ..." nodding at the room height metal construction beside them, "will need to go at the end of the desk". Gilbert sighed and lit a cigarette. "But they aren't coming until Saturday!" he tried hopefully. "That's as maybe but there's no call for us to wait. We don't have to move them yet but it pays to know where they are going to go."

Abby had spent the morning, and an early morning it had been, a 7 o'clock start in fact, cutting and gathering ripening lavender and looking to the irrigation of her lavender patches. Gilbert had helped out today: doing the chores and seeing to the watering of all the plants around the house and there were a great many of those: lavender babies, aloe vera, nasturtiums, morning glory, night jasmine, mimosas, avocadoes, cherry trees, plums, apricots and rosemary, mint, basil, chives and thyme to name just some. And now it was noon and they sat to settle on how they would spend the rest of the day.

"It's not a beach day is it? Too windy by a half. I thought I might write to Hubert as I promised myself a few days back when I had my perfervid spell. I have it mostly composed - just a few detailed wordings to work out. And you?". Abby poked her tongue out, pink and sweet.

"It may have escaped your notice- it often does - but I have some lavender to clean and bundle and hang - about two thousand if yesterday's yield is anything to go by. I shan't be short of something to do - don't worry about me!" "More like 1700 I'd say but that's just my guess. You know best - as usual".

Abby collected her electrical ties and paperclips and wandered off to her potting shed wearing the pretty little flip flops that had been her birthday present from the Dutch side of the family. Gilbert picked up his coffee and his smoking set - Assos and lighter, his constant companions - and shuffled over to the iMac. Those flip flops were killing his feet - toe posts - grrrr. Abby's head appeared at the stable door (the door that would be replaced this coming weekend - "... you'll get used to them Gilbert - jut persevere - they'll be good for your feet in the long run".

"Dearest Hubert. Dear Pal " he pecked out. In 35 years he had never learned properly to type nor to type properly.

(to be continued ... )

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Getting hot and sweaty

Gilbert sat at the computer. He was sweating profusely, Perspiration dribbled down his forehead. He sipped now and then from a glass of cheap white wine and pulled upon a hand rolled cigarette. It was past half ten and the temperature was still up in the 80s. The humidity was up there too - nearly 40%. It had been too windy to go to the beach today but n the last hours or so the wind had now dropped away completely. He dragged his forearm across his forehead. He had shifted his writer's block by reading some pulp airport fiction and had been working flat out ever since. And Tracey's recent email had cheered him immensely. He had shaken off Dick - for a while at least.

He had rung Trace out of the blue yesterday - they had worked together a few times while he was still in IT and she had remained a friend. Her husband was odd but sociable. She had been very helpful on the phone and was sure she could help and she had been as good as her word. And now that he felt more secure he could get on.

He had begun to write again too; hiding this new screed away in the new location behind the books (here). It was here that he would unveil and investigate the hideous plot that the Laz was hatching. He was thinking of writing to Hubert too. It was a busy time but fulfilling. He dragged his forearm across his forehead again and pressed on.

(to be continued ... )

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

There's a block!

"Are you constipated Gilbert?" "Me? No, not as such. Why? I mean what makes you think that?" "Well for a start you're looking pretty rough these days but mainly because I haven't noticed you go for a dump recently." "Oh that. No! I've just been using the toilet down here. I'm finding it a bit more convenient because my back has been playing me up lately so when you go out to do the watering I take my crap."

"You're right in a way though, I am constipated creatively. A, I can't produce - and B, I'm full of crap." Abby smiled and interjected quickly "There's a block in your system Dave!" They smiled together. The first time in a while. "There is a block - indeed there is but at least we got registered without any block. Let's open a bottle of wine to celebrate."

(to be continued ... )

Monday, June 19, 2006


Gilbert leaned over his notebook scribbling in his malformed hand with a 2B pencil (he habitually used a 2B pencil - it was his his little nod to Joyce via Stephen via Hamlet). Joyce was much on his mind this morning. He slurped down some cold coffee - he had allowed his appalling manners to deteriorate further since they had moved here. "Gilbert, please!" implored Abby as she strode past carrying today's harvest of lavender. She tousled his hair. It was, she noticed well past needing to be cut but he had said when he shaved his winter beard off that he would grow it long again. Ah well, that was his choice. So long as he didn't end up with a tasselkopf or a ridiculous straggly pony tail - rat's tail more like. Then, he would be going out on his own.

She poured herself a mug of coffee and sat down. She lit a Silk Cut aspro. "Gilbert, what are you working at now? You said you wouldn't use the notebook again after that horrible Dick broke in and defaced it." He looked up from the page at her, he looked haggard, blue circles under his eyes and a weary, nearly hunted look in those green eyes. "Did I? Yes, perhaps I did. When was that? But he's determined to wreak havoc he's planning a pandemonium you know? Did I tell you? Yes yes I did I must have. He's going to let them all have their own ways about everything. He's letting go the reins. Let slip etcetera. Dogs of war, characters what's the difference. I told you didn't I? ... and cry havoc or was it the other way round no matter. I must get on. "

Abby poured him another mug of coffee and pushed it to his side of the table and then she went round to his side. "Gilbert you have to calm down. You're confused because you aren't sleeping properly and you have begun to forget things that you only recently did. You are under a terrible strain. I know that, but ..." she trailed off. He was staring out of the window at the mimosa. She shook him to. "Gilbert darling you need to slow down. What did I say? Huh? Just now: what did I say?" Childlike he stared up into her beautiful blue eyes - "You said that Dick mustn't find my notebook and that I must calm down. Isn't that what you said?"

She smiled lovingly at him and touched her fingers lightly, lovingly to his left cheek - stubble, he had forgotten to shave for four days now - she stroked down to his chin and put a finger across his lips - crusty - "Yes darling that's right, and so you must". She dug her thumbs into his shoulder muscles and felt the tension. He was like a coiled cobra - there was so much energy locked up in him that it was burning him up. "Now finish up your notes and we'll go down to the town hall and register to vote. Come on, they close at one". "Vote? Vote? Vote for who? When do we vote?". "We talked about it last week Gilbert - there are local elections in October and if we register we can vote. Here. But first we have to go to the town hall to register. You remember?" "Yes yes - of course I remember. It had just slipped my mind. You know I think i have some sympathy for Dick - it's not easy being written. It hurts". He scribbled two or three more lines and closed the notebook. "I think, Moses H had the hardest deal you know. Now, where are we going? Do I need to change?"

On the way out he slid his precious notebook behind the shelf containing the Pynchon and the Derek Raymond and the Celine. "You get past those guys and you're welcome to read it" he said to nobody.

(to be continued ... )

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Abby came up from cutting lavender and encountered Gilbert dressed in the signature red overalls and wielding a mattock. He was over by the rotating compostor and swinging the old fashioned tool as though he knew what he was doing. "What are you doing Gilbert?" He looked up and out from under the faded black straw hat through sweat stained sunglasses, "Not wishing to state the obvious Abby, but I'd have thought it was pretty obvious - I am digging a trench. I am sweating and digging a trench. A curved trench from the mimosa to the compostor. Ring any bells?" He wiped a copious amount of perspiration from his brow, the brow that was receding further annually, and into his thinning hairline. Some dampness clung to the stubble on his cheeks. "Oh, yes, the lavender hedge - the French - of course. Yes we spoke of it but I thought that we'd wait until October." "No time like the present" interrupted Gilbert, "I needed to sweat and you were picking so I thought, why not?" "But Gilbert, it's in the eighties now and you are drenched. Your hands are shaking and you are so pale. Come on, come indoors and we'll have a coffee. You could do with some water first. And a cigarette I'd wager. It's a good trench, but it will wait you know the cuttings are healthy -we can plant whenever we like. Come on Gilbert, leave it for now!". He stepped out of the trench and followed her meekly - shaking slightly - maybe he was a little dehydrated.

While Abby was boiling the kettle and cleaning out the cafetierre - she'd stowed the 500 or so blooms in her potting shed for now - she'd clean and bunch them later - Gilbert checked his online life. "Sweet bloody Shannon... " he exploded "that bastard Dick has besmirched my notebook - he's mocking me - he's hacking me - shit, he's writing me!!!!!"

The kettle boiled and switched itself off.

(to be continued ... )

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


It was a very thin leather belt: perhaps a centimetre wide or half an inch - no more. Gilbert slipped the tail through the narrow brass buckle and slid the resulting loop up his right arm and over the elbow. He stopped just below the bicep and pulled the belt tight. He took the tail into his mouth and clenched it between his teeth. The upper bridge work wobbled slightly but held. With his right hand he slapped up a vein. It had never been easy to get those veins up to the surface - even the blood transfusion people had had problems and after all those donations there was a decent amount of scar tissue.

In front of him there lay a pristine set of works in a stainless steel tray. He had found it at the back of a drawer in the kitchen although he had no idea where it had come from: perhaps he had written it there. It was a big glass syringe with a long sharp hypodermic needle. He tested the temperature of the fluid he had cooked up and drew it into the syringe - it almost filled it. The text had cooked up well and reduced perfectly. He pulled on the belt with his teeth and slapped up the vein again: it was a good blue colour. He purged the air and slipped the hypodermic into the vein painlessly, he had always been better at that part than any nurse or doctor he had ever met, and pressed the plunger down slowly. he emptied the syringe into the vein, removed the hypo and laid it back into its case. He leant back in the chair and lit a cigarette, releasing the belt and shaking it onto the floor.

Some mad old Scotsman had recommended the idea to him although it had doubtless been a joke to start with. But the idea of a transfusion of literary talent had not been such a daft idea after all when he thought on it. It might work might it not? Especially if he was right about quantum transfer. And so, first thing this morning he had brought his copy of Imagination Dead Imagine down to the cellar and dug out the works from the kitchen drawer. It was the most intense literary work he could remember and was mercifully short.

He had chopped it up into tiny pieces with a pair of scissors and put it, thus once reduced, into a small saucepan with a covering of water and put it on the hob to boil. In the first pass boiling the lettering and the ink seeped off of the page fragments and into the liquor. At this point he removed the paper scraps and started the second pass: simmering and reducing. It was not as though he had lost the text entirely, he had had a copy of the complete text printed up onto a tee shirt some years ago and now that copy was fading beautifully at the line ends blurring out the odd word here and there, adding to the fragmentary and fractured nature of the text as written.

By the time Abby came down he had tidied everything away and was sitting at the kitchen table writing. Abby beamed.

(to be continued ... )

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Equilibrium regained?

It took three days for Gilbert to recover his equilibrium. Three days of almost constant sleep. Abby was convinced that his mind was healing itself with all this rest from fictive reality and factive reality. He was up and about and making a reasonable amount of sense by the time Abby's birthday rolled around. Not complete sense - he still rambled now and then but never uncontrollably. He had stopped sobbing and shaking but he was dry - creatively. She had watched him sit and stare at his notes: observed him, pen in hand, hovering over a ream of paper his head shaking: that was it - he was shaken up. Whatever he had seen or heard or thought that he had seen or heard had damn nigh unhinged him.

He was looking his age these last few days and he never spoke anymore of what he did at night. He was becoming forgetful too. He had made her a beautiful birthday card but had failed to sign it. He had left the car windows wide open one night, well the driver's side window at least, and his seat had been soaked by a nocturnal downpour. The idea that his theories about quantum literary transference were correct worried at her: and if ... No, she scrubbed the idea from her conscious mind.

It was his idea to go up to the lake for coffees. It was along time since they had been there alone and it was, weatherwise, a very unusual day. Tomorrow, rain was forecast and today the clouds were agathering. A mackerel sky was in the offing and the reflections and light at the lake would be a tonic if the rain would just hold off. Under normal circumstances it was either glaringly blue white or it was in the depths of winter grey skies that they visited this most wondrous place.

Perched in the corner of the Empire cafe like en eyrie overlooking the inland lake they could spy on everything going on on the surface and the peripheries of the lake - Godlike, if you beleived in a god but Abby thought them more like gerakia, the elegant buzzards that played above their valley day in and day out displaying a mastery and grace beyond the earthbound. They would circle the thermal in threes crying like babies - clearly playing just for the fun of it. She wondered quietly to herself whether that was akin to the sensation Gilbert experienced when he went walkabout at night. She thought of his analogy with following the thread up and out of this reality into another and concluded that it might be like flying - or soaring. Would that she could follow him one night and find out for sure - she'd settle that Lazarou's hash! - she'd give him "You're a very lucky man".

Later that evening they ate out at a quiet little taverna that they had used for 20 years now and where the maw of rapacious football commercialism and the Mundial could not reach them. They ate well and drank of the sharp white wine. Gilbert had calmed considerably when the finally made their way to bed having fed the dogs their leavings from the meal and she was pleased that what had been for her a memorable birthday (just another number she told herself) had so lifted his spirits too.

(to be continued ... )

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sleep deprivation

Gilbert sipped his coffee, letting the steam rise. Lighting another cigarette he looked up and out of the kitchen window. The sky was so clear that the reflection from the white of the outside walls hurt his eyes. The terracotta walls inside seemed to be alight. He sniffed. The breeze was strengthening and it was bringing both dust and pollen. Eddies of thistle down swirled in the vortex. The watering was complete: upstairs and down. Only cleaning the cellar remained on his personal list of chores. That and cleaning the kennel and run. The gardenia was in bloom and save for a little damage caused by the recent south winds everything in the garden was looking healthy. He was giving Abby a sleep in. She deserved it after all her efforts tidying the front garden and weeding the lavender patches.

Despite the glare, he looked up and out of the kitchen window and spied her making her way down: checking every plant on her way. He waved. The dogs made not a sound.

She bussed his cheek on the way in and sat herself down opposite him. He blew her a kiss and smiled. She stared uncomprehending at him. "Gilbert, what happened? You look like shit. Look at me." Obediently he looked up. "What?" She took his face between her hands and turned it first left and then right. Still holding it, she ordered "Look up, and over there" nodding. "There's blood in your left eye - you look like you haven't slept in weeks, your skin is grey and you've got half a set of Louis Vuitton under your eyes. What, in the name of Alan Turing, have you been up to?"

Gilbert rushed off to the bathroom and checked in the mirror. She was right - he looked like shit. There was blood in his eye. He did have huge bags under his eyes. He looked, he thought, not unlike his father just before he died.

"I've not been sleeping too well." he offered "I'm worried about this Laz guy. Truth be told, I'm petrified. I know what he's up to but I don't know what to do. I dare not leave him alone and he's writing most of the way through the night these days. I'm exhausted." He put his head in his hands and sighed a deep sigh. His cigarette burned itself out in the ashtray messily, noxiously. "Look Gilbert, you're going to have to get a grip on this - well, on yourself. You simply can't go on like this. You're wearing yourself out. You're a shell - a husk." His head still cradled he sighed again "What can I do? He's in the driving seat Who knows - maybe this is all part of his plan. It's bloody madness I know but what can I do?"

"For a start you can have another coffee" she said and poured him one. She poured the dregs into her own cup. "And then you need to sleep. Didn't you say he only writes at night? Well. It's daytime now so you need to catch up and you can do it safely now." He lifted his head. "That's a good idea - that'll work - but first I have to tell you about last night. I got there before he started writing. I had free run of his study for ten minutes before he turned up. I got to try opening the remaining boxes - no luck - my hands aren't big enough - I had a good look at his typewriter - my typewriter as was." He lit another cigarette - the ashtray was now half full.

"When he finally arrived - I heard his footfall coming down what sounded like stairs - he scanned the room but seemed not to see me - perhaps I'm invisible to him. He had a set of keys in one hand - along with a mug of steaming coffee - and two packs of cigarettes and a lighter in the other. He put them all on a pine table to the left of the partners desk and then he pulled out the chair - it's on wheels - and sat in front of the typewriter. And then he pushed the typewriter back and brought one of the tortoiseshell boxes - the leftmost one - to the newly cleared space in front of him. And then he did that weird thing with his hands and opened it - it still reminds me of a bird of prey when he does that. He slid the top left drawer open and took out what seemed to be a mustard spoon which he then dipped into the box. He levelled the spoon off with a small piece of perspex and pinched at it as though he were taking snuff. He lifted his hand and sprinkled it lightly over the keyboard. Decidedly weird. Well then he started to write - without making reference once to notes or sources - as if he had most of the stuff written already in his head - and he continued like that for hours. I nearly fell asleep. He worked like a man possessed. My legs were numb. My head was numb. I was asleep on my feet."

"But the key thing - the fascinating thing was when he had finished. He spent a bit of time online talking to some of his bizarre online friends - the vampire, the red indian, the Brighton Belle, and a few others and closed down. Finally he opened the other tortoiseshell box and repeated the mustard spoon and sprinkle routine. What was that all about?"

"GIlbert, get yourself off to bed and get some rest - you're raving - we'll talk later - go get some sleep - please!"

(to be continued ... )

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

THE POWER OF LONGHAND (part the third)

"And then it got really interesting" continued Gilbert lighting yet another cigarette, "he continued typing for a while (and I kept throwing curve balls into his plot line) until he rested a while and leant back in his chair. And he stayed like that for several minutes - obviously thinking. He got up and left the room - a rectangle of light just missed me as he went out. Soon though, he was back and with a mug of coffee and a packet of Assos. He sat himself back down in the chair in front of the typewriter (it is definitely my old one - and if my modified Flann's theory is correct then it is part James Joyce part Myles nag Copaleen and part me - at least - that's some potent piece of hardware he;s churning out his high class potboiler on) and then he just slumped over. As if dead - face down on he keyboard!"

Gilbert ground out the butt into the thick, cast aluminium ashtray before him. "Minutes crawled by and all I knew for sure was that he was alive - his back rose and fell ever so slightly - and then just as suddenly as he had collapsed he woke or roused or came out of the catatonia that had gripped him. It felt as though thirty or more minutes had passed. I was stiff from standing so still in that dark corner scarcely daring to breathe. And all of the time he was out I was wondering whether I'd be able to get back to this reality if he upped and died on me. I was really frightened Abby! What if I couldn't get back? Put the wind up me I can tell you. Anyway, he snaps back upright, ramrod straight, rubs his eyes, and runs his hands through his hair. So I'm standing there waiting and he leans forward and grabs the Camper box. Same procedure as with the NIke one. Slides it around and lifts the lid. And what do you think he produced from this magic box? A rabbit? No! Scrolls! That's right, you heard correctly, three scrolls. Big ones too. He unscrolls one a way and puts it back. He unscrolls the next one a ways, nods, rolls it back up, and puts it on the desk. He puts the third one back in the box and stands up pushing the chair back. All I can see at this point is him leaning over the desk clearly unfurling this scroll that must have been A2, maybe A1, and pinning the four corners down with paper weights. And all the time nodding to himself. I can see his finger tracing shapes above the scroll but I cannot see it. He sits back down and starts making notes in a little book with a pencil. He lifts the coffee mug and finds it cold. Must have been nearly half an hour I figure. He gets up and heads to the door again. The searching rectangle of light just missed me as I began to move. I wasn't going to miss my chance and as soon as that rectangle started to shrink and fade I was over at his desk - standing where he stood only moments before. I could smell him. An odd slightly stale smell but with a theatrical back scent - like women who wear too much foundation. You know Abby, a bit like the girls in the big cosmetic shops here".

Gilbert unwrapped a fresh pack of cigarettes and was soon lighting yet another cigarette. "Now I wasn't sure whether he was making more coffee or whether he would just stick the mug in a microwave so I didn't hang around but I saw more than enough. It took me while to twig what it was I was looking at but when it clicked I was fine. The scroll had three directed graphs drawn on it - plot graphs, narrative graphs whatever - and they all intersected like a Venn diagram. I heard his footfall and legged it back into my little niche. My heart was thumping fit to infarct. I was dizzy too. I stood stock still and tried to gather myself together but the tiny, spidery text in the middle of that intersection seemed to have burned itself onto my retinas. My heart would not calm, I could feel my pulse at my temples, I had reddened, my breathing was rapid and shallow. I half convinced myself I was going to have a stroke."

"In a meticulous hand, at the point of intersection, in all caps, was inscribed the following legend in red ink 'GILBERT SUCCUMBS TO ALZHEIMERS - DEATH CANNOT BE TOO FAR AWAY NOW' - and it was finished with a flourished exclamamtion.".

(to be continued ... )

Sunday, June 04, 2006

THE POWER OF LONGHAND (part the second)

Gilbert leant back and smiled a world weary smile. "Yes, yes last night yes, yes". Gilbert was never happier than when telling stories. His storytelling was of a different style and a separate thing from his writing. He loved humorous and mysterious tales best of all and told them at every opportunity. When people would despairingly ask why he didn't write lovely stories like the ones he had become famous for instead of "that difficult stuff" he would angrily proclaim that storytelling and literature had no thing in common: storytelling is an oral craft that used the spoken language; literature is a written and read art and it uses the written language; the two languages are, always have been, and always will, be different; storytelling is a directly interactive act with immediate feedback; literature is interactive but without a feedback loop. Finally, he would announce that, as B S Johnson once famously said, "I was told as a child, that telling stories is telling lies and I don't tell lies", and then he would pause a while before adding "Well not in my writing I don't".

He spread his hands wide and started, "It was your 'power of longhand' that got me on the right track. Remember how I got Laz to type an X so that I could check whether that typewriter of his used to be mine? By imposing myself on the narrative? Well it occurred to me that if I could somehow arrange to write at the same time as he was writing me then it was possible, no likely, that at the very least what I wrote, or some of it at least, would become inextricably woven into the fabric of his text and at best could drive, if I wrote enough plot, strongly enough, the thing - and perhaps could drive his own actions from one remove if you like. I thought about writing it here - at the same time as he was writing but your 'power of longhand' kept coming back to me - nagging me - prodding me and then I got it - to maximise the power of my writing and to direct it accurately I needed to be there while he was writing - co-located if possible - and for that it'd have to be longhand. If I could secrete myself in a corner somewhere with a notebook and a pen I could focus on the plot rather than the projection of the power of the text. And so that's exactly what I did last night - I took the old Lamy you bought me when fist we knew each other and one of my notebooks and I went there to the lair of the Laz. I'd worked out a sketch of what I'd write and I just waited until he started to write about me. And when he did, I slipped effortlessly, invisibly, back up his narrative thread. I stationed myself behind him and to his right: in a shadowy corner between a small light-oak roll-top desk and sofa that has seen better days and smells faintly of animals, no, of dogs.

And I started to write a strongly plot driven scene where the Laz needs to consult his note card box. He had, in my plot, reached an impasse, did not know what came next in his own plot, was scratching his head in a classic comedy manner. I repeated the phrase several times: 'Laz was stuck, he scratched his head. He looked at the typewriter. Laz was stuck, he scratched his head. He fiddled with the empty mug beside his mouse. Laz was stuck, he scratched his head. He reached into the top left drawer of the desk for the scalpel that he always kept there and sharpened his 2B pencil. Laz was stuck, he scratched his head." And then it happened - he actually scratched his head. He scratched it with the newly sharpened pencil just above his left temple. I had him. I had the power. "He reached toward the shoebox and picked it up" I wrote: and he did it - he picked up the Nike shoe box! "Carefully he opened the box", and at this he executed a curious, almost balletic manoeuvre with is hands: putting them together at the opposing thumbs and spreading them wide. His hands were huge. Not clumsily huge, but with improbably long fingers and broad palms that looked by comparison slim and elegant. The overarching impression was of a pianist stretching his hands before playing but this was no pub pianist, this was a Liszt: these oddly alien looking hands could, I surmised, span the "A" major octave plus two that Liszt himself was reputed to be capable of - maybe more - an octave and a half more like. He pushed the typewriter back across the desk away from him clearing a space big enough for the shoe box. He carefully placed the box before him and studied it. He turned the box through 180º and put his thumbs together again and then he smiled to himself. Smirked would be more accurate. He spread his hands like a pair of wings without separating his thumbs and hovered above the box. I thought, just then, of a hawk hanging above the valley in the early evening sky. Placing his hands across the diagonal of the boxes top plane he put one of his little fingers on the top left far corner and craned the other little finger, thumbs still touching, across and under the front right bottom corner. It was an amazing spread. He pressed, I was watching hypnotised, a small boss in the top label with both thumbs and at the same time pressed firmly upon the opposing outside corners -one on top and one beneath. Magically, the label on the right hand end of the box slid open! He put the box down on the desktop and swiftly tuned it through 90º so that the lacuna faced toward him. At this point he placed his yet spread right hand on the now right side of the box and, angling his thumb around the corner, he placed the ball of his thumb onto a small indentation on the revealed panel. His right little finger was, I determined, resting on a boss like the one on top of the box but on the side label. Again he applied pressure simultaneously and synchronously. The top of the box popped open along a previously invisible seam. There had to be a hidden hinge inside the box at the far end for he then took his left hand and flipped what now appeared to be a lid open. A two column, colour coded note card system was revealed.

The Laz riffled the cards and stopped as his thumb, his left thumb, reached the pale green section of cards in the left hand column. HIs thumb and forefinger worked together and he withdrew a card. He held it up and away from him, reading myopically I thought. He slid the box to one side and pulled the typewriter back before him. He cast the card on the now open box and began to type. For myself I slid back into the shadows not wanting to be seen and made copious notes and then it struck me like a thunderbolt - the significance of your "power of longhand" - the prophetic nature of it - long hand and long hands! Long hands indeed!

(to be continued ... )

Saturday, June 03, 2006

THE POWER OF LONGHAND (part the first)

It was after ten when Gilbert got down to the cellar the next morning. It had been a long night's journey to this day and he had slept heavily on past Abby's rising. As he sipped his first coffee of the day and lit his first gasper Abby came in from the garden in her tatterdemalion gown. So perfectly adapted to farming and gardening was this patchwork dress that neither dirt nor burr nor brack showed, no matter what she had been doing in it, and this morning she had mainly been watering plants. She sat herself across from him and poured her first coffee of the day. "You look well" she said, "you were sleeping so peacefully and snoring so raucously that I didn't like to disturb either one. I left the shutters closed so as not to upset the sheep with the noise". Gilbert rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and smiled. "It went well last night - like a well oiled machine in fact - very well indeed. Your recollection was the key to it all. If only I had that facility for recall but ..."

He steepled his hands and tapped them to his chin, "'Think longhand Gilbert. The power of longhand.' do you remember saying that? Where did you get that from? Who said that?" She made to speak but he carried on, waving her to silence. "I know you use it sometimes and I know it's from my own past but you could never have guessed how prophetic it was too!"

This time she would not be silenced. "It's you - from B S Johnson. We were having a dinner party in London before we came here and Inge was there and your agent and a couple of others - I don't recall exactly. We were on the port, or rather you and Desmond were, Inge and I had kept a bottle of Cliquot back and were quaffing that instead, well you were talking about typing and word processors and the rest and Desmond was saying how word processors and computers had made his life so much easier - no more awful handwriting to decipher and you were going on about that old clapped out typewriter that you were so attached to had been an inspirational device on occasion and then you got all romantic and started reminiscing about how the earliest drafts of some of your first shorts had been scratched out with an old fountain pen and how you sometimes felt nostalgic for those days silly old sentimental sod ..." "What ever became of that typewriter? Do you know, I can't for the life of me remember parting with it.".

"I do wish you wouldn't do that Gilbert - you just cut me off in mid-flow and I hate that I really do." Abby was clearly angry at being interrupted and she let the silence mature malevolently. "I sold it, that's what happened to it. It was cluttering up the back of a cupboard and I sold it to a grimy old gipsy man who came to the door one day asking to buy typewriters. It was ages ago - why? does it matter?" "No darling, it matters not a jot - I just wondered. Please carry on, so it was a dinner party and we were talking about writing and, and ..." Abby swept a stand of hair from her face and smiled. "Well you were going on about the pen being mightier than the sword and Desmond mentioned that he had been talking with the guy who was doing the B S Johnson biography - he certainly took his time over that didn't he? - and that he, the biographer, had said that Johnson always began his novels on exactly the same day of the year - Boxing Day I think - in the same place - his mum and dad's house - and how he had always insisted on longhanding his drafts - and that he used the same pen on the same type of pad - one from pile he had stolen from a previous employer - some gas firm or such. Anyway, Desmond was interested in the ritualistic nature of the genesis of those amazing pieces but you just shouted him down, you were pretty pissed by then, and, as you do, getting bombastic, and you just shouted it out "The power of longhand - that's the thing - the power of longhand - never forget it! And then you went on and on about how many masterpieces had been written with the pen - and, as I recall it it all got fairly raucous thereafter and people began to leave - but that's where it comes from - from you! The other thing that I do remember, and I remember it very clearly, is that Inge was cross at not being the centre of attention for once."

"So," she said, "Now you know, Now tell me about your nighttime adventure ..."

(to be continued ... )

Friday, June 02, 2006

Billy Cotton says:

Gilbert came to slowly. Dawn was yet to break and yet he found himself covered in sweat. Groggy and feeling vaguely drugged he realised that Abby was not beside him. This was strange. Stranger still was the howling outside of the shutters. It came to him that it was a south wind screaming around outside. Abby had forecast this south wind as soon as they set foot on the balcony at one this morning for a final cigaretee before bed. The air had been completely still - not a breath stirred. Between eleven and midnight the weak but freshening wind had swung around to come from the east: it had been blowing desultorily all day from the north. She was a very clever girl that Abby.

The door to the bedroom swung open and Abby stood briefly there in the doorway dressed in a shirt and jeans: windblown and flushed she tiptoed in. "It's OK Abby - I'm awake. Well part way awake anyway. Where have you been?" It was a stupid question. Stupid only because he had known the answer before he had asked it. She had been out in the dust storm: in a howling wind. She had been looking after her charges: her plants. She had been trying to save them from the depredations of this hot, cruel wind that was rushing at them from Africa: this wind that regularly came and burned the leaves of plants black and rushed on past them toward the sea; this wind that pushed dry soil around and knocked plants down, breaking stems in its headlong dash to sea.

"It's OK - everything is safe. It's early yet". She was peeling off the shirt and jeans now. "I'm getting back into bed. There's no more to be done. Go back to sleep". She went into the bathroom and he could hear her brushing the sand and dust from her hair. She got back into bed and he left almost immediately. His bladder was full from the night and needed emptying pretty quickly. As he pissed he towelled the drying sweat from his chest. Finally he wiped his armpits and his throat dry and crawled, still not properly awake, under the mosquito net into a cooling bed. He kicked the duvet down to the end of the bed and soon fell snoring fast asleep again.

They re-woke at about nine and the air was desperately dry: the evil south wind was still blowing. The air was hot and as soon as he hit the bathroom he realised that he was sweating already. The hair on his chest was moist and smelt sour. He heard Abby stir and shouted quietly "You stay there awhile - I'll make some coffee you - come down when you're ready." She turned on her side and slumbered on as he left the room, closing the door behind him. He opened not a single shutter as he made his way down to the cellar to make the promised coffee.

The rest of the day - once Abby had joined him - was spent clearing up the disruption around the farm and garden. She watered and staked plants. She deadheaded flowers and removed obviously damaged leaves. He swept and dusted where the mad south wind had driven sand and dust through every crevice in every shutter and window depositing on every surface. Between them they had everything back to normal by late afternoon and drove off in a dreadfully dusty car to a cafe where they relaxed with another frappe. Dry throats were lubricated. Jangled nerves were calmed. Dusty noses would have to wait.

Now it was evening. They had showered and changed. He uncapped the pen and carressed with his fingertips the hand painted barrel. The design was detailed and intricate. It was a thing of beauty beautifully engineered. The beautiful matching ink bottle rested half full beside the ashtray. The ink was black. He filled the pen with the eyedropper mechanism and wiped the surplus from the 18 carat famously flexible nib. He recapped it. Abby had given him the key he needed to unlock more of the Laz's secrets but surely it would wait. There would be other days. For now he just wanted to relax with her.

(to be continued ... )

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is Dave there?

Gilbert sipped his beer - cheap pale beer from Lidl's in a squat green bottle with a twist-off cap this time around - the budget comes first. No condensation - yet. He rocked back in his chair and grabbed his tobacco pouch. He rolled himself a cigarette poorly. His hands were shaking. Putting the roll-up in his mouth he realised that it was the wrong way round - nowadays he used filters and so there was a right way and he had inadvertently chosen the wrong way - an uncharacteristic mistake, But he was shaken - not just his hands. He was rocked to his very core. Lighting the cigarette he looked up and out of the kitchen window. The sky was a clear blue and glaring again. The heat of the sun was clear but this was a summer sky and so not as clear.

Life was becoming intolerably complex. Either that or his necessarily subjective perception was twisted out of kilter. He smelt conspiracy. Conspiracy and connivance. Conspiracy, connivance and coincidence. As a mechanism or as software the human mind was primarily a collection of pattern matching algorithms or components - he knew that. Perhaps his was overactive. Perhaps too much exposure to the effects of fictive lives on reality was the problem. Perhaps he had developed some meta-pattern matching algorithm - one that detected patterns about patterns. Maybe that was what others called paranoia. Any device that has as its main function the detection of pattern and the integration of that pattern into the pre-existing patterns could, if it were equipped with learning mechanisms, become overly sensitive or possibly over sensitized. Surely too much activity could do that? In too short a timeframe? The end of his cigarette was damp and tasted sharply of tar. He had been gawping.

He was looking over his notes of the night before and mentally replaying the radio programme in his head simultaneously. Flashing back ( a hideous cinematic expression I know but ...) he was trying to recreate the shock - the instantaneous frisson - the stomach churning - the hairs on his arms hackling that had overwhelmed him then. The smell of a chilli cooking filled his nose again suddenly and the Proustian passage was achieved - he was back to that moment when the presenter had announced, "Chancey Other's new book comes out this week and deals with a mythical future where the writings of a London taxi cab driver have become a religious - an hermeneutic - text for followers the world over ..." "Right", he thought, his pattern matching running in top gear, "sub-Ballard I'm sure, though plagiaristically inclined, and doubtless mired up again in that nasty mockney that Other somehow has convinced himself is the equal to Burgess's Nadsat. Poor deluded fool!" And then she, the hostess, had announced the name of the book in question - THE BOOK OF DAVE". Had he heard arights? Yes he had indeed - for she repeated it to begin her next sentence. That is when the hairs on his arms had hackled and his pattern matching had hit hyperdrive. That is when he no longer attended. Chancey Other was speaking now and Gilbert was far away. Other's self satisfied smirk was almost visible over the airwaves and his huge horse like head nodded smugly as ever. His strangely strangled vocalisations betraying a West London/Oxbridge miscegenated journalist wafted cacophonously from the speakers as Gilbert recalled in vivid detail the number that he had done on poor old Derek Raymond with his last book but one (he had not dared to investigate the harm that he had done to poor old Oscar in his next - Oscar speaks mockney? "Ain't got nuffing but this ere genius to declare guvnor" or "Its all abaht them what you carnt eat being chased by them as carnt speek proper innit? ). Stolen the title of Cookie's book Other had albeit when he was dead: just as the Laz had accused him of stealing his own novel! And poor old Cookie had had the misfortune of having, and this while yet alive. He had had to change his writing name to avoid being confused with some best selling tall tale merchant from the wrong side of the Atlantic. And to top it off he had never given his main character in the Factory series a name of his own, most certainly a reflection of his personal take on the impermanence of naming. Alice herself would be surprised by these turns of events all coming headlong upon themselves.

Dave though. THE BOOK OF DAVE! Where did this twist lead him? Was Other writing the Laz or vice versa? Laz writes Other writing Gilbert? No - surely not - he'd know: but, Other writes Laz writing Gilbert - yes that was possible. Possible indeed but likely? And was it because his writings, Dave's, were to become a gospel of sorts that the phrase "You're a very lucky man Dave" resonated so? Was it immortality in text that the congratulations acknowledged? Was this the Dave? Or another? An Other? And as he pondered the mystery he recalled one more disservice that had been visited upon the unfortunate Derek Raymond: the BBC had bought the rights to the Factory series. And had just sat on them! Oh yes, and he, DR, had been appropriated, his persona itself, in the work of a second rate pulp writer and left on the cutting room floor. How badly put upon had been poor Cookie, the skull on a stick had had a bad time of it - dead and alive. How the dead live indeed.

Abby found him disconsolate and confused when she came in from the garden smelling of borage. Sitting in front of the iMac that had slipped, by then, beyond screen saver mode and into sleep. Gilbert was far from sleep. His pattern matching was running so rabidly that he had precious few cycles left for normal life, rendering his appearance catatonic. Three stubby little beer bottles, empty, blocked the path of his mouse, the ashtray was full to overflowing. The little block of resin was half its previous size. She'd seen him this way before - usually when he finished a book - written out. This time however, she could not rouse him - he was there and not - all at the same time. Rather full than empty this time.

She was glad that they had provisioned already this week; that they had picked up mail and the first of last winter's olive oil from Georgi. Pure and green, organic and healthy. "Well," she thought, "the oil may be healthy but Gilbert isn't". They would need spring water tomorrow but he should be better by then: these things seldom lasted long. "Come on Gilbert, let me in. Let me help. What is it?" She hit the return key and checked what he had been looking at. The page of notes was terse but she recalled his shock at last night's radio programme. She put two and two together and probed him, "Is it Dave? Is it? Look - that programme was just a coincidence. He's not involved. You know the writer. It's Laz. That Other isn't fit to sharpen your quill: not fit to fill your fountain pen. He couldn't do it. No way!" A glimmer, a twitch worked its way across his torpid features. "Think longhand Gilbert. The power of longhand". She knew that talk of the physical act and accoutrements of writing would often rouse him from vapidity - perhaps it would work. She carried on "Sheaffer, Parker, Lamy, Rotring, Platignum". Another twitch. "Mont Blanc, Pelikan, Conway Stewart". A tremor. She racked her memory "Pilot, Cross, Waterman!". She faltered as his eyelids opened. "Caran D'Ache, Parker" she repeated herself. "Bic" she declaimed desperately.

"Bic? Bic? For Turing's sake, that's a biro not a fountain pen Abby! A bloody ball point. What are you thinking of?".

And he was back. Completely. "It's a good job you got me out of that", he said kissing her forehead "I was almost gone there". He fingered the exquisite Namiki Emperor Treasure on the desk: a gift from his publisher. "Your forgot the Namiki Abby!" He was behind her, massaging her shoulders. "How could you forget the Namiki? But. I think you've cracked one of the other puzzles. The power of longhand indeed. Now that rings a bell."

(to be continued ... )